After my previous post, Microsoft and Canonical reacted almost immediately – ahem – and on the //BUILD/ conference the Windows Subsystem for Linux and the ability to run the Ubuntu userspace under Windows was presented. If you have the latest fast ring insider build of Windows 10, you can just set your Windows installation into  Developer mode, search for Windows Features in Cortana and activate Windows Subsystem for Linux ~(Beta) reboot and then type bash at the windows command prompt. You will be asked to confirm, and then Ubuntu 14.04 will be downloaded, and off you go.

What is happening? A few things. Instead of the NT subsystem, NTDLL.dll, being loaded, a faux Linux kernel is presented to the process, allowing Linux userland binaries to be executed natively in the context of the current user. The abstraction is leaky at best right now, and as usual Microsoft aren’t even aiming to do this reimagining of the Linux kernel completely exact, so there will always be userland executables that will not work with this subsystem. Their goal is to make the most common dev things work out of the box to make Windows less frustrating for developers to work on. You would be doing people a favour by trying this out and complain loudly about everything that doesn’t work for you.

I just now did Win+R, typed bash and then vim. In SysInternals Process Explorer I see init -> bash -> vim in the process hierarchy. It is completely integrated in Windows, only the filesystem you see from Linux has been organised by Canonical to make sense. Since the context of the WSL is per-user, the Linux filesystem is actually located in the user’s profile folder while all drives on the system are mounted under /mnt/c /mnt/d et c. Because of this you can access “Linux” files from Windows and Windows files from “Linux” in a way that sort of makes sense. I mean, I’ve seen far worse.

I must say I didn’t think Microsoft would take this route, so kudos. What I still feel the need to complain about is that the security situation is complicated with the Windows user always being root in his own faux Linux universe. Server deployment could be magical if there was a way to have a global Linux context and have root access hidden behind elevation or sudo, but developing such a joint security model would be enormously complicated. Running X in Windows, that would be the next dream.


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